Signs of a Retinal Detachment

Anatomically correct eye showing retina

How to Tell if You Have a Retinal Detachment

A retinal detachment can cause permanent vision loss if you don't receive prompt treatment from an ophthalmologist. Recognizing common signs and symptoms of the condition will help you protect your eyesight.

What Happens During a Retinal Detachment?

The retina is a layer of light-sensing cells that lines the back of your eye. Light rays enter your eye through your pupil and are directed to your retina through the clear lens located just behind your iris. Your retina sends the light impulses via the optic nerve to the brain, which converts them to images.

During a retinal detachment, part of the retina pulls away from the back of the eye. If this happens abruptly, you'll notice a sudden change in your vision. When the detachment occurs gradually, symptoms may be more subtle, and vision changes may happen more slowly.

What Symptoms May Occur If I Have a Detached Retina?

You may notice one or more of these symptoms:

  • Floaters. If you're over 40, you're probably used to seeing stringy floaters drift across your field of vision occasionally. As you age, the gel-like vitreous humor that gives your eyeball its shape begins to shrink slightly. Floaters occur when fibers in the shrinking vitreous clump together. When you look at a bright object, you see shadows formed by the clumps. Seeing a few of these shadowy threads, cobwebs or shapes is perfectly normal. However, the sudden appearance of many floaters may be a sign of a retinal detachment.
  • Flashes. Flashing lights are another sign of a possible retinal detachment. The flashes may look like miniature bolts of lighting or tiny stars.
  • Vision Loss. You may notice that a curtain seems to cover part of your visual field or that you can no longer use your side vision. The area of lost vision may increase if you don't receive treatment immediately.
  • Wavy Lines. Objects may lose their sharp edges when your retina detaches. You might notice that lines that normally look straight may now appear curved.

Could a Retinal Detachment Happen to Me?

Anyone can develop a retinal detachment, but they're more likely to happen if you've recently injured your eye, are very nearsighted, had cataract surgery, had a detached retina in the other eye, or have a family history of retinal detachment. You may be at increased risk of the condition if you have certain eye conditions, such as lattice degeneration, uveitis or retinoschisis.

How Do Ophthalmologists Treat Retinal Detachments?

Treatment involves reattaching the retina and also addressing issues that may have caused the detachment, such as a tear in the retina or leaking blood vessels. Therapy for retinal detachment may include:

  • Vitrectomy. Vitrectomies remove the vitreous humor, making it easier to make repairs to the retina. Salt water or a vitreous substitute replaces your natural vitreous humor at the conclusion of the surgery.
  • Laser Surgery. The laser creates a series of small burns around a hole in the retina. The scars that form help the retina reattach.
  • Cryopexy. During cryopexy, a special probe freezes the area around a retinal tear. Freezing also creates scar tissue that fuses the retina to the back of the eye.
  • Scleral Buckle. In some cases, a scleral buckle, a tiny band sewn into the white part of your eye, will be used to facilitate reattachment after you've had laser surgery or cryopexy.
  • Pneumatic Retinopexy. Your treatment may involve injecting a gas bubble over the tear with pneumatic retinopexy, then sealing the tear with laser surgery or cryopexy.

More than 90 percent of retinal detachments can be successfully treated with modern therapies, according to the National Eye Institute. Although surgery can help preserve your eyesight, it may take a few weeks or months to see an improvement in your vision.

Are you worried that you or a family member may have a retinal detachment or another vision condition? Contact us to schedule an appointment. (Call us immediately if you suspect that the problem is caused by a retinal detachment or visit the emergency room.)


National Eye Institute: Facts About Retinal Detachment, 10/09

National Eye Institute: Facts About Floaters, 10/09

American Society of Retinal Specialists: Retinal Detachment

Medical News Today: What You Need to Know About a Detached Retina, 1/23/18

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